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New Program Trains Physicians In Health Informatics Basics

Posted on January 18, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A new program has emerged to help physicians make better use of the massive flow of health information they encounter on a day-to-day basis. With any luck, it will not only improve the skills of individual doctors but also seed institutions with clinicians who understand health IT in the practice of medicine.

The Indiana Training Program in Public and Population Health Informatics, which is supported by a five-year, $2.5 million award from the National Library of Medicine, focuses on public and population health issues. Launched in July 2017, it will support up to eight fellows annually.

The program is sponsored by Indiana University School of Medicine Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the Regenstrief Institute. Regenstrief, which is dedicated to healthcare quality improvement, supports healthcare research and works to bring scientific discoveries to bear on real-world problems.

For example, Regenstrief participates in the Healthcare Services Platform Consortium, which is addressing interoperability issues. There’s also the Regenstrief EHR Clinical Learning Platform, an AMA-backed program training medical student to cope with misidentified patient data, learn how different EHRs work and determine how to use them to coordinate care.

The Public and Population Health training, for its part, focuses on improving population health using advanced analytics, addressing public health problems such as opioid addiction, obesity and diabetes epidemics using health IT and supporting the implementation of ACOs.

According to Regenstrief, fellows who are accepted into the program will learn how to manage and analyze large data sets in healthcare public health organizations; use analytical methods to address population health management; translate basic and clinical research findings for use in population-based settings; creating health IT programs and tools for managing PHI; and using social and behavioral science approaches to solve PHI management problems.

Of course, training eight fellows per year is just a tiny drop in the bucket. Virtually all healthcare institutions need senior physician leaders to have some grasp of healthcare informatics or at least be capable of understanding data issues. Without having top clinical leaders who understand informatics principles, health data projects could end up at a standstill.

In addition, health systems need to train front-line IT staffers to better understand clinical issues — or hire them if necessary. That being said, finding healthcare data specialists is tricky at best, especially if you’re hoping to hire clinicians with this skill set.

Ultimately, it’s likely that health systems will need to train their own internal experts to lead health IT projects, ideally clinicians who have an aptitude for the subject. To do that, perhaps they can use the Regenstrief approach as a model.

Ophthalmologists Worry That EHRs Decrease Productivity, Boost Costs

Posted on January 16, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A new study has concluded that while EHR use among ophthalmologists has shot up over the last decade, most of these doctors see the systems as lowering their productivity and increasing their office costs, according to a survey published in JAMA Ophthalmology.

To conduct the study, the researchers emailed surveys to 2,000 ophthalmologists between 2015 and 2016. The 2,000 respondents, whose responses were anonymous, were chosen out of more than 18,000 active US members of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

The researchers involved found that the EHR adoption rate for ophthalmologists, which is about 72.1%, was similar to rates among other specialties. Nonetheless, it’s a big jump from 2011, when only 47% of the 492 respondents reported using EHRs in their practice.

Most respondents were devoted solely to ophthalmology and had an average of 22 years of practice. They had an average of 5.3 years of EHR use, but nearly the entire group had previously used paper records. Eighty-eight percent of those currently using EHRs had been present for the transition from paper records to digital ones, researchers found.

Not surprisingly, given typical EHR acquisition and maintenance costs, the mean number of ophthalmologists in a given practice was higher among those with an EHR in place than practices without one. Researchers found that when practices were part of an integrated health system, a government health system, the higher the odds of their having adopted an EHR.

While the adoption rate has increased, ophthalmologists actually seem less happy with EHRs than they had been before. For example, many reported that they felt EHRs were undermining both their productivity and financial situation.

For example, more than half of respondents in 2016 reported that their patients seen per day had fallen since adopting EHRs. That’s an unfortunate change in perceptions since in 2006, more than 60% of ophthalmologists saw an increase in productivity after their EHR system was implemented.

Meanwhile, respondents were ambivalent about the impact of EHR use on revenue, with 35% reporting that revenue had remained the same after adoption, 41% a decrease and almost 9% an increase.

Despite concerns that EHRs were undercutting practice productivity, researchers reported that three previous studies of academic ophthalmology practices found no change in patient volume after EHR adoption.

There also seems to be a disconnect between what ophthalmologists think their patients want technically and what they want.  While 76% reported that their patients felt mostly positive or neutral toward EHR use, 36% of ophthalmologists would return to paper records if they had the chance.

That being said, ophthalmology practices do seem to see the benefits in keeping their EHR systems in place. For example, despite the fact that 68% saw paper documentation as faster, 53% of respondents felt their EHRs were generating net positive value.

All told, it seems that ophthalmologists’ concerns about EHR use are working themselves out. However, it also seems as though the doubts we see documented here are deeply rooted and may not go away quickly.

Big Gap Exists Between Wearables Hype And Physician Use

Posted on January 12, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Not long ago, I wrote an article describing some major advances in wearables and health tracking technologies. Standout technologies included Grail, a cancer detection startup, Beddit, which makes sleep tracking technology, and Senosis Health, which developed apps using smartphone sensors to monitor health signals.

In the article, I argued that we’re past the question of whether wearables are valuable and that it’s time to focus on what we want to do with next-generation of superpowered health tracking devices instead. I was driven by stats like the ones produced by the Consumer Technology Association, which asserted last year that by 2020, physician use of patient-generated data will reach critical mass. It noted that wearables are being used more often in clinical trials and that some health insurers offering free wearables to patients, trends which it predicts will cause the market to explode.

But at least to some extent, I think the CTA (and I) were both wrong. As impressive as the new patient trackers are, they won’t be that valuable if nobody on the frontlines of medicine uses them. And even if trackers are being used in clinical trials or given away by health insurers, that doesn’t mean physicians are on board. The issue is not just whether devices work well, but whether doctors can actually use them in their daily care routine.

Recent stats suggest that few physicians actually use patient-generated data in their practice. In fact, the Physicians Practice Technology Survey found that just 5% of respondents reported that they use such such devices as part of their care routine.

I’m not surprised by this research. My own informal discussions with physicians suggest that the number of practices that actively use patient-generated data may be even lower than 5%.

Why are so few medical practices leveraging patient-generated data? The reasons are fairly straightforward:

  • Few of devices offer measurements that are consistent, predictable and valid
  • Vanishingly few are FDA-approved, which does little to inspire clinicians’ confidence
  • In most cases, the data produced by wearables and related devices isn’t compatible with practice EMRs

For what it’s worth, I do believe that many physicians — especially those with an interest in health IT– know that patient-generated health data will eventually play a valuable role in their practice. After all, in principle, there must be ways that such data could inform patient care.

But right now, the simple devices patients own aren’t sophisticated enough to serve practice needs, and most of the advanced patient tracking devices are at the idea or testing phase. Until patient tracking devices become more practical, and offer reliable, valid, usable data, they’re likely to remain a dark horse.

AI Project Could Prevent Needless Blindness

Posted on January 11, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

At this point, you’re probably sick of hearing about artificial intelligence and the benefits it may offer as a diagnostic tool. Even so, there are still some AI stories worth telling, and the following is one of them.

Yes, IBM Watson Health recently had a well-publicized stumble when it attempted to use “cognitive computing” to detect cancer, but that may have more to do with the fact that Watson was under so much pressure to produce results quickly with something that could’ve taken a decade to complete. Other AI-based diagnostic projects seem to be making far more progress.

Consider the following, for example. According to a story in WIRED magazine, Google is embarking on a project which could help eye doctors detect diabetic retinopathy and prevent blindness, basing its efforts on technologies it already has in-house.

The tech giant reported last year that it had trained image recognition algorithms to detect tiny aneurysms suggesting that the patient is in the early stages of retinopathy. This system uses the same technology that allows Google’s image search photo and photo storage services to discriminate between various objects and people.

To take things to the next step, Google partnered with the Aravind Eye Care System, a network of eye hospitals based in India. Aravind apparently helped Google develop the retinal screening system by contributing some of the images it already had on hand to help Google develop its image parsing algorithms.

Aravind and Google have just finished a clinical study of the technology in India with Aravind. Now the two are working to bring the technology into routine use with patients, according to a Google executive who spoke at a recent conference.

The Google exec, Lily Peng, who serves as a product manager with the Google Brain AI research group, said that these tools could help doctors to do the more specialized work and leave the screening to tools like Google’s. “There is not enough expertise to go around,” she said. “We need to have a specialist working on treating people who are sick.”

Obviously, we’ll learn far more about the potential of Google’s retinal scanning tech once Aravind begins using it on patients every day. In the meantime, however, one can only hope that it emerges as a viable and safe tool for overstressed eye doctors worldwide. The AI revolution may be overhyped, but projects like this can have an enormous impact on a large group of patients, and that can’t be bad.

MedStar’s Human Factors Center: An Interview with Dr. Raj Ratwani

Posted on January 10, 2018 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

Background: Recently, I had a wide ranging interview with Dr. Raj Ratwani, Acting Center Director and Scientific Director of MedStar Health’s National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare.

The center is MedStar’s patient safety, and usability applied research arm. MedStar is the Mid Atlantic area’s largest medical facility non profit operating 10 major hospitals as well as dozens of urgent care, rehab and medical groups.

MedStar set up the center, as part of its Institute for Innovation five years ago. The Institute is an in house service of several centers that conduct research, analysis, development and education. In addition to human factors, the Institute turns MedStar staff’s ideas into commercial products, conducts professional education, encourages healthy lifestyles and develops in house software products.

The Human Factors Center’s work concentrates on medical devices, as well as creating new processes and procedures. The center’s 30 person staff features physicians, nurses, engineers, product designers, patient safety, usability and human factors specialists. The Center’s focus is on both MedStar and on improving the nation’s healthcare system with grants and contracts from AHRQ, ONC, CMS, etc., as well as many device manufacturers.

Dr. Ratwani: Dr. Ratwani’s publications are extensive and were one reason prompting my interview. I met with him in his office in the old Intelsat building along with Rachel Wynn the center’s post doctoral fellow. We covered several topics from the center’s purpose to ONC’s Meaningful Use (MU) program to the center’s examination of adverse event reporting systems.

Center’s Purpose: I started by asking him what he considered the center’s main focus? He sees the center’s mission as helping those who deliver services by reducing their distractions and errors and working more productively. He said that while the center examines software systems, devices take up the lion’s share of its time from a usability perspective.

The center works on these issues in several ways. Sometimes they just observe how users carry out a task. Other times, they may use specialized equipment such as eye tracking systems. Regardless, their aim is to aid users to reduce errors and increase accuracy. He noted how distractions can cause errors even when a user is doing something familiar. If a distraction occurs in the middle of a task, the user can forget they’ve already done a step and will needlessly repeat it. This not only takes time, but can also lead to cascading errors.

Impact: I asked him how they work with the various medical centers and asked about their track record. Being in house, he said, they have the advantage of formal ties to MedStar’s clinicians. However, he said their successes were a mixed bag. Even when there is no doubt about a change’s efficacy, its acceptance can depend on a variety of budget, logistic and personal factors.

EHR Certification: I then turned to the center’s studies of ONC’s MU vendor product certification. Under his direction, the center sent a team to eleven major EHR vendors to examine how they did their testing. Though they interviewed vendor staffs, they were unable to see testing. Within that constraint, they still found great variability in vendor’s approach. That is, even though ONC allowed vendors to choose their own definition of user centered design, vendors often strayed even from these self defined standards.

MU Program: I then asked his opinion of the MU program. He said he thought that the $40 billion spent drove EHR adoption for financial not clinical reasons. He would have preferred a more careful approach. The MU1 and MU2 programs weren’t evidence based. The program’s criteria needed more pilot and clinical studies and that interoperability and usability should have been more prominent.

Adverse Events: Our conversation then turned to the center’s approach to adverse events, that is instances involving patient safety. Ratwani is proud of a change he helped implement in Medstar’s process. Many institutions take a blame game approach to them berating and shaming those involved. MedStar treats them as teaching moments. The object is to determine root causes and how to implement change. Taking a no fault approach promotes open, candid discussions without staff fearing repercussions.

I finally asked him about his studies applying natural language processing to adverse patient safety reports. His publications in this area analyze the free text sections of adverse reporting systems. He told me they often found major themes in the report texts that the systems didn’t note. As a follow on, he described their project to manage and present the text from these systems. He explained that even though these systems capture free text, the text is so voluminous that users have a difficult time putting them to use.

My thanks to Dr. Ratwani and his staff for arranging the interview and their patience in explaining their work.
____________________________________

A word about DC’s old Intelsat building that houses the Institute. Normally, I wouldn’t comment on an office building. If you’ve seen one, etc., etc. Not so here. Built in the 1980s, it’s an example of futurist or as I prefer to call it Sci-Fi architecture and then some. The building has 14 interconnected “pods” with a façade meant to look like, well, a gargantuan satellite.

Intelsat Building

 

To reach an office, you go down long, open walkways suspended above an atrium. It’s all other unworldly. You wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Princess Leia rounded a corner. It’s not on the usual tourist routes and you can’t just walk in, but if you can wangle it, it’s worth a visit.

Intelsat Building Interior

Allscripts to Pay $100 Million Cash to Acquire Practice Fusion

Posted on January 8, 2018 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today, Allscripts announced that it would pay $100 million cash to acquire EHR vendor, Practice Fusion. I wouldn’t quite say this is a fire sale, but in Silicon Valley it’s pretty close when you consider that according to CrunchBase Practice Fusion had raised over $157 million. These seem to be the kind of transactions that Allscripts likes to do. I’ve heard it said that Allscripts is the place where EHR software goes to die. That’s a corrupt way of describing what I think has been their strategy.

The press release said that Practice Fusion supports 30,000 ambulatory practices and 5 million patients. I wouldn’t be surprised if the practices number is inflated since it’s a free EHR and a lot of ambulatory practices signed up to check it out, but don’t actually use the software. I’m at least 2-3 of those practices and haven’t touched my accounts in years. The July 2017 meaningful use attestation data listed 8,440 providers using Practice Fusion software. So, Practice Fusion still has a good size user base, but it’s probably closer to 12-15k practices in my opinion.

As I’ve looked at the ambulatory EHR market, I’ve often been describing EHR vendors as distribution channels as opposed to EHR software vendors. If you go around any exhibit hall, EHR vendors aren’t really selling EHR software much anymore. In most cases, EHR vendors are catering to their existing user base and then using them as a distribution channel for other products and services. With this in mind, Allscripts acquisition of Practice Fusion expands their distribution channel. That’s a valuable thing.

One other piece of this transaction which I believe many won’t understand is Practice Fusion’s relationships with life science organizations. Those relationships are how Practice Fusion was funding their free EHR. I’ve heard mixed reviews on those relationships, but no doubt Allscripts is hoping those relationships can generate more revenue for their company when they add Allscript’s large userbase.

Fierce Healthcare also found in the SEC filing for this acquisition an interesting note about Practice Fusion receiving a request from the US Attorney’s office:

The SEC filing also noted that Practice Fusion received a request from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont in March 2017 requesting information and documents as part of a civil investigation into the company’s EHR certification. Allscripts stated that although Practice Fusion has complied in “a cooperative, thorough and timely manner,” any legal proceedings, damages or settlements could “adversely impact” future operating results.

No doubt these requests are an extension of the $155 million eCW Whistleblower lawsuit. I expect most major EHR vendors have had some sort of inquiry after the eCW lawsuit. Hopefully, the team at Allscripts vetted the inquiries well especially given Practice Fusion’s past history of pushing the envelope. Considering Practice Fusion’s FTC Charges and Settlement, I’d think that they’d have been careful about their EHR certification, but it’s hard to take the Silicon Valley mentality out of your culture.

The other obvious tie into this story is Allscript’s previous acquisition of McKesson’s HIT software business. I’ll admit that it’s hard for me to keep up with all the EHR software that exists under Allscripts umbrella, but with the addition of Practice Fusion, Allscripts certainly has an EHR software for healthcare organizations of every shape and size. Plus, I expect they run their EHR businesses at break even while they make most of their money off of other lines of business they can sell to their EHR customers. It’s not just Allscripts that’s seen how much money can be made doing revenue cycle management and providing other services to their EHR users.

I will be interested to see what Allscripts chooses to do with Practice Fusion long term. Will they eventually sunset the Practice Fusion EHR and encourage users to migrate to one of their other EHR? Will they start charging Practice Fusion EHR users for the EHR? You can imagine the outrage that would come if they did start charging, but EHR switching isn’t a simple process. So, I’d imagine that many practices would just start paying and it would take months and years for them to finally switch EHR vendors and many would probably just decide to stay with “the devil they know.” That would be a big gamble on the part of Allscripts, so it will be interesting to see if they make it. Then again, maybe they have enough revenue from being a distribution channel to Practice Fusion users that they’ll be able to continue the free EHR model. Time will tell.

Those are some initial thoughts on the acquisition of Practice Fusion by Allscripts. I should also note that the acquisition isn’t complete. It still has to go through the standard ant-trust evaluation process, but I don’t expect that to be an issue. What do you think of this acquisition? Is this a good move by Allscripts? What does this mean for Practice Fusion users?

Doctor on Demand Stats Offer Insight Into Telmedicine Trends

Posted on January 5, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Recently, direct-to-consumer telemedicine provider Doctor on Demand released some statistics on its performance in 2017. While some of the report was self-congratulatory, I still think the data points are worth looking at, especially for clinicians.

For starters, it’s worth noting that the company now considers itself a fully integrated medical practice. For example, it’s begun offering lab testing services through Quest Diagnostics and Lab Corp. as part of a program to control chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

Another factoid the stats offer is that its physicians are generally in their mid-career; apparently, Doctor on Demand’s average physician has 15 years of experience. The company doesn’t offer any perspective on why that might be, but it suggests to me that clinicians who participate are both confident that they can manage care remotely and comfortable with technology.

Why is that the case? My guess is that this work may not be attractive to younger doctors, who might feel uneasy managing patients online given their lack of experience. It also suggests older physicians, some of whom still consider telemedicine to be a poor substitute for face-to-face care, probably aren’t engaging with telemedicine either.

Other data provided by Doctor on Demand includes the top reasons for visits included treatment of cold and flu, prescription refills and infections, which isn’t surprising. It also notes that mental health visits climbed 240% over 2016, with anxiety, depression and stress being the most common symptoms treated. This is more interesting, as it suggests that among other problems, consumers feel they aren’t getting their mental health needs met in real life.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the company’s self-reported benefit statistics, I’m taking them with a large grain of salt, but I found them to be worth a look nonetheless. The company says it saved its patients nearly $1 billion in healthcare costs and saved over 1.6 million hours that would otherwise have been spent in doctor’s waiting rooms. These results were allegedly generated by a base of 1 million patients, according to the San Francisco Business Times.

I’m not writing this to suggest that Doctor on Demand is better or worse than other telemedicine companies and video services offered by privately-employed physicians or hospital telemedicine services. Still, I got a kick out of learning what trends a well-positioned telemedicine service was seeing in the marketplace. While Doctor on Demand’s results may not reflect the market as a whole, they certainly offer food for thought.

Supercharged Wearables Are On The Horizon

Posted on January 3, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Over the last several years, the healthcare industry has been engaged in a rollicking debate over the value of patient-generated health data. Critics say that it’s too soon to decide whether such tools can really add value to medical care, while fans suggest it’s high time to make use of this information.

That’s all fine, but to me, this discussion no longer matters. We are past the question of whether consumer wearables data helps clinicians, which, in their current state, are under-regulated and underpowered. We’re moving on to profoundly more-capable devices that will make the current generation look like toys.

Today, tech giants are working on next-generation devices which will perform more sophisticated tracking and solve more targeted problems. Clinicians, take note of the following news items, which come from The New York Times:

  • Amazon recently invested in Grail, a cancer-detection start-up which raised more than $900 million
  • Apple acquired Beddit, which makes sleep-tracking technology
  • Alphabet acquired Senosis Health, which develops apps that use smartphone sensors to monitor health signals

And the action isn’t limited to acquisitions — tech giants are also getting serious about creating their own products internally. For example, Alphabet’s research unit, Verily Life Sciences, is developing new tools to collect and analyze health data.

Recently, it introduced a health research device, the Verily Study Watch, which has sensors that can collect data on heart rate, gait and skin temperature. That might not be so exciting on its own, but the associated research program is intriguing.

Verily is using the watch to conduct a study called Project Baseline. The study will follow about 10,000 volunteers, who will also be asked to use sleep sensors at night, and also agreed to blood, genetic and mental health tests. Verily will use data analytics and machine learning to gather a more-detailed picture of how cancer progresses.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. We are not looking at your father’s wearables anymore — we’re looking at devices that can change how disease is detected and perhaps even treated dramatically.

Sure, the Fitbits of the world aren’t likely to go away, and some organizations will remain interested in integrating such data into the big data stores. But given what the tech giants are doing, the first generation of plain-vanilla devices will soon end up in the junk heap of medical history.

An Example Of ACO Deals Going Small And Local

Posted on January 2, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Until recently, ACOs have largely focused on creating large, sprawling structures linking giant providers together across multiple states. However, a news item that popped up on my radar screen reminded me that providers are quietly striking smaller local deals with hospitals and insurance companies as well.

In this case, cardiologists in Tupelo have begun to collaborate with Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi. Specifically, Cardiology Associates of North Mississippi will with Blue plan associate Magellan Health to create Accountable Cardiac Care of Mississippi.

It’s easy to see why the two agreed to the deal. The cardiology group has outpatient clinics across a wide region, including centers in Tupelo, Starkville, Columbus, Oxford and Corinth, along with a hospital practice at North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo. That offers a nice range of coverage for the health plan by a much sought-after specialty.

Meanwhile, the cardiology group should get a great deal of help with using data mining to deliver more cost-effective care. Its new partner, Magellan Health, specializes in managing complex conditions using data analytics. “We think we have been practicing this way all along, [but] this will allow us to confirm it,” said Dr. Roger Williams, Cardiology Associates’ president.

Williams told the News Leader that the deal will help his group improve its performance and manage costs. So far it’s been difficult to dig into data which he can use to support these goals. “It’s hard for us as physicians to monitor data,” he told the paper.

The goals of the collaboration with Blue Cross include early diagnosis of conditions and management of patient risk factors. The new payment model the ACO partners are using will offer the cardiology practices bonuses for keeping people healthy and out of expensive ED and hospital settings. Blue Cross and the Accountable Cardiac Care entity will share savings generated by the program.

To address key patient health concerns, Cardiology Associates plans to use both case managers and a Chronic Care program to monitor less stable patients more closely between doctor visits. This tracking program includes protocols which will send out text messages asking questions that detect early warning signs.  The group’s EMR then flags patients who need a case management check-in.

What makes this neat is that the cardiologists won’t be in the dark about how these strategies have worked. Magellan will analyze group data which will measure how effective these interventions have been for the Blue Cross population. Seems like a good idea. I’d suggest that more should follow this ACO’s lead.

An Open Letter to Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator CMS

Posted on February 18, 2016 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

Mr. Andrew Slavitt
Acting Administrator
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Washington, D.C..

Dear Mr. Slavitt:

No doubt you were surprised at the strong, widespread reaction to your comments regarding the Meaningful Use Program as part of your speech to the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference several weeks ago. Your quote regarding the hearts and minds of physicians was particularly noteworthy. After decades of Federal regulatory hostility towards physicians, some of us doctors were pleasantly surprised – even shocked – to hear you acknowledge:

– physicians exist beyond just being another cog in the healthcare machine.
– physicians actually have hearts and minds.
– physicians’ opinions might have value to you.
– programs that are poorly designed distract physicians from patient care.
– CMS aspires to a “cultural focus on listening and learning”

Many of us physicians reacted like starving prisoners when the Commandant announces that there will be extra cockroaches for dinner. Though the news was small, many of us were overjoyed.

But most of us (60% by a recent survey) reacted differently. The majority of us understand the political savvy of saying something controversial about your enemy. Such a move can create a useful distraction, driving the enemy to argue amongst themselves while you continue with work that you would rather we didn’t notice…and that is exactly what has happened. Like an octopus squirting ink into the water you have created an effective smokescreen to let you spend the next few months coding Meaningful Use into MACRA without any interference from us.

So the purpose of this letter is to ask the question: Which of the above interpretations of your comments is correct? What are your intentions?

If your comments are sincere then consider this letter a warm introduction to the group of rapidly growing, grass-roots full time practicing physicians whom this letter represents. Over the past few years we have acquired the policy expertise and political skills to be effective leaders and collaborators with you to bring truly meaningful improvements to America’s health care. Realize that the leaders of organized medicine with whom you currently work – including the AMA , whose membership represents less than 15% of practicing physicians – do NOT represent the “hearts and minds” of physicians that you profess to seek. If you mean what you say then we are reaching out to you.

If, on the other hand, your comments are nothing more than political subterfuge, then this letter serves as a warning. We are not buying the political offal that you are selling. This physician group will use all of its intellectual, financial and political resources to make it far more difficult for you to destroy what is left of health care in America.

The choice is yours. We look forward to hearing from you.

Michael Koriwchak, M.D.
Vice President
Docs4PatientCare Foundation